Turkish writer-director Zeki Demirkubuz finally gets the right balance between artiness and accessibility in “Fate” and “The Confession,” first two pics in a planned trilogy entitled “Tales About Darkness” (Karanlik ustune oykuler). Twin observations on human frailty and forgivingness, delivered in almost vignette style, the films look unlikely to make much impact theatrically — Demirkubuz’s name not yet having the Bergman/Kieslowski marquee clout — but certainly establish the 38-year-old helmer as one who’s finally arrived.
Pics jointly won the best director prize in the Istanbul fest’s national competition, as well as each copping a Fipresci (international critics’ association) award. They’re both also set to show up in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard — the first time the sidebar has programmed two full-length features by the same director.
Though “Fate” is billed as “inspired” by Albert Camus’ existentialist classic “The Stranger,” there’s little of the French novelist’s naval-gazing in Demirkubuz’s slyly humorous, sometimes playful tale of Musa Demircan (Serdar Orcin), a customs office clerk who lives with his aged mom.
Even when his mother dies in her bed one night, Musa’s well-regulated world ticks on. Meeting his boss’ secretary, Sinem (Zeynep Tokus), outside a cinema by sheer chance one night, Musa absentmindedly starts a relationship with her and even agrees to get married. She, however, carries on her affair with her boss and, when the latter’s wife and family are found murdered, Musa is faced with taking the rap.
Pitched halfway between a drama and a black comedy, the film benefits hugely from the performances of its leads, with both Orcin and Tokus terrific as the even-tempered clerk and his loving but faithless wife. Even a long philosophical discussion near the end between Musa and the prison governor, who can’t comprehend the former’s lack of anger, has a blackly comic edge — though the scene runs way past its usefulness and practically brings the film grinding to a halt.
The surprise ending of “Fate,” with its acceptance of human foibles and the need to carry on, exactly mirrors that of “The Confession,” a drama of domestic infidelity which is less ironic but more successful as a movie. Tighter, and not as monothematic, it also benefits from excellent playing from its leads.
Phoned twice by his wife, Nilgun (Basak Koklukaya), while on business in Istanbul, Harun (Taner Birsel) drives home to Ankara on an impulse — and discovers Nilgun is having an affair. Despite his pleas for her to stay, Nilgun walks out on the abusive Harun. The two begin long separate journeys — involving further pain and eventual recuperation — that may or may not coincide at a later date.
Framed first as a mystery, then as a domestic dispute and finally as a new beginning, “The Confession” reveals its layers with deceptive simplicity. It’s undoubtedly Demirkubuz’s most accomplished movie to date, replacing the pessimism and quirkiness of earlier pics like “Innocence” and “The Third Page” with a more mature, more optimistic view of human relations.
Like “Fate,” the film makes clever use of minimal resources without looking pinched, and camerawork by the multi-hyphenate helmer himself is just fine. Both movies — which were shot back to back — make brief but atmospheric use of the “nature” opening of Mahler’s First Symphony on the soundtrack. Final seg of the trilogy will reportedly be based on Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”